Justen Close Keeps The Gophers In It After A Sloppy Start In The 4-1 Win Over Wisconsin

February 10th, 2023: Gophers’ goaltender Justen Close made 21 first period saves and 36 total to keep his team in It after an extremely sloppy opening period.

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Last season the Gophers defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in the last game of the year to capture the regular season Big Ten title. This weekend they have a chance to capture their second straight regular-season Big Ten title if they sweep the Badgers. So tonight’s 4-1 win is a good start.

Wisconsin has won only three games this year in conference play out of 18 games. But they know what is at stake and in a losing season the Badgers would like to have some fun before the super bowl by creating their own. Beating the number-one-ranked Minnesota Gophers. 

Last weekend Justen Close stopped 26 out of the 29 he faced. Tonight he stopped 21 shots in just the first period. The Gophers got their first shot just three minutes into the game but then went 13 minutes without a shot. In that span, the Badgers recorded 15 straight shots. 

“We weren’t on top of our game tonight,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “We were really rusty coming out of the bye but the good news is we will be way better tomorrow.”

Close stopped every one of the 15 shots in that span and not long later Logan Cooley spun around, fired a shot after catching a pass from Jimmy Snuggerud and gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead. Matthew Knies picked up the secondary assist on the play. 

After Cooley scored the Badgers continued to outwork the Gophers and had five of the next six shots. Cooley’s goal didn’t come long after his line was stuck in the offensive zone for what seemed like three minutes. The Badgers recorded eight shots on that one shift but Close stood tall. 

“No question they were going in the first period and Close was outstanding,” Motzko said on the 21 shots Close faced in the opening period. “We were loose and sloppy in areas tonight. A good team finds a way to survive that and we’re a good team and we survived it. But what’s most important is we have to come back at 5:00 pm tomorrow and get on top of it.”

After being outplayed in the first period the Gophers opened the second with a goal in the first minute. Ryan Johnson picked up the loose puck in the zone and later fed one to Snuggerud in the slot. The freshman sniper ripped home his 17th goal of the season giving the Gophers a 2-0 lead. 

In the next six minutes, the Badgers had four shots to the Gophers’ two but it was Bryce Brodzinski who added another to the Gophers’ lead. Johnson headmaned a puck to Rhett Pitlick who walked into the zone, spun a 180, and sauced one to Brodzinski in the slot. 

Pitlick notched his eighth assist and 16th point. Johnson notched his 13th assist of the year and 15th point on the play. 

After Brodzinski gave the Gophers a 3-0 lead the team seemed to put what was a horrific first period behind them and get back to playing Minnesota hockey. Hockey that has been so good this year. 

Brodzinski opened the third period with another goal. Left all alone in front of the net, Mike Koster sent a slap pass right on the blade of the senior forward’s stick and Brodzinski notched his 14th goal of the year and 23rd point. 

But only 15 seconds later, Brock Caulfield notched his tenth goal of the year. Caulfield has 32 career goals and it seems more than half of them have been scored against the Gophers. 

Close kept the Gophers in it the rest of the way for his 18th win of the season. The Gophers improved to 21-7-1 on the season and 15-3-1 in the Big Ten. Close finished with 36 saves. 

Since the Michigan Wolverines beat Michigan State the Gophers will have to beat the Badgers tomorrow if they want to clinch the Big Ten regular season title. 

With this win, the Gophers are now 33-9-1 in the Big Ten the last two seasons. The Badgers are the exact opposite, 9-33-1. They will square off tomorrow at 5:00 pm back at the Kohl center. 

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